Article originally published in LAQR Issue 2, 2012 some revions made.
The life of a gender non conformist is an intriguing struggle indeed. It is a lonely and dangerous tightrope walk towards social equality. Though I’ve personally had the privilege of being comfortable with the body and genitalia I was born with, I have little in common with the homo-normative cisgendered and similar commonalities with the transgendered. Blurring the lines of the gender binary and playing with those traditional dynamics have been met with threats of violence, genuine admiration, and painful loneliness. Here are some personal reflections of my life, as such.
When I was younger I quickly understood that under the veil of all things biological and superficial, the surface of things matter so much to most everyone else that the marionette of the social order can be pulled, tampered with, and cut. I observed that girls in elementary school would often get trinkets and candies from boys who sought them to be the proverbial objects of their affection. So the more feminine(only in attitude) I would present myself to the other young gender conforming boys, the more I would receive from them while flirting with this demeanor. These experiments with gender dynamics got me good treatment, protection, some light ridicule, and many material rewards of affection in elementary school. Most were positives I wanted as a child, but as I grew older and developed more sensitivities and empathy, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be treated as a man or even a womyn. Even though I identified as male I wanted to be treated as a person, no marionette attached, regardless of my perceived gender or sexual orientation.
High school was met with varied reactions to my gender nonconformity. Some positive, some negative. Some understood, some hated. Some stalked, some wanted to kill me, and one expressed both in tandem. I can truthfully say that I do not know how much of how I was treated had to do with what I looked like. I’m certain of the controversy; I’ve always been an androgynous individual in physicality and in spirit, since very young. Sure, my physical attributes contributed to how I was treated and perceived, that’s a given for everyone, but that also took clout over my observations and inclinations despite my interests in things that deviated from the social gender norm.
I felt uncomfortable as a youth, as most youths do. Teachers or students I didn’t know too well would call me improper pronouns whether intentional or accidental. I would especially feel pressure and feared violence in boy’s locker room situations because of the glares I would get, glares of surprise from students that my genitalia matched their own. Of course I was given nicknames like Catwoman in elementary or Mermaid in high school swim class. Partly, I felt, because of efforts towards belittling me and partly because they felt this anomaly deviating from a regular gendered spectrum was worth drawing some attention to.
I have always shared a sisterly camaraderie with womyn growing up. They never saw me as a drooling threat to their comfort or interest to their own attraction. I valued this. Difficulty prevailed when I would find certain womyn attractive. I’ve always felt I would lose that trust or camaraderie if I expressed any attraction, as unfair as that was to me. I never wanted to perpetuate that uncomfortability that men are known for. Since the gender queer would rather not be seen as any one particular gender in accordance to popular norm, and since I don’t want my sexual orientation to lead the narrative of who I am or who I’m perceived to be, it is a constant struggle to truly be seen and heard.
I’d say that I am often inadvertently hit on by people who don’t really know why they’re attracted to me or why they’re hitting on me. Its interesting witnessing people do this, and stop midway what they’re doing because they deem it inappropriate themselves. For example if it’s a self identified cis straight man he’ll retract and say he means what he said and did in the most heterosexual of ways, EVAR. Attraction is a very profound thing. I often find that the men who are attracted to me aren’t attracted to the cishetero standard masculinity that many gay men are usually presented with and attracted to, but instead are attracted to the supposed “opposing” feminine qualities. It is my observation that when straight men see other “men’ or gender non conformists with those feminine features it can be unnerving and confusing for them. These feelings are real and valid, and it is not up to that individual that you may have confusing feelings for to appease you. This applies to everyone. We are humyn. Accept these feelings. Talk about them, but do not let your urges or feelings get in the way of mutual consent!
There’s a lot of social pressure on the self identified straight man, less than the LGBT or gender non conforming communities, of course. But anything that differs from the rules of the norm are not allowed in the self identified straight male social perspective, especially when their side often qualifies as Questioning. This is hetero supremacy that can lead men and womyn to be ostracized by their seemingly 100% straight male and female counterparts. So, no, I don’t expect the questioning, self identified straight man, who may be attracted to me to tell me with his words how he’s feeling and why. Instead, he might go through the complicated and even inadvertent steps of showing me with his not so furtive glances and treating me like he would any other womyn he’s covertly attracted to, WITH PATRIARCHAL VALOR AND CHIVALRY. There are even labels for men and womyn who are attracted to any and all feminine qualities, or any and all masculine qualities, in any given individual regardless of gender, some of which are called Hypersexuality, Androsexuality, or Gynesexuality. Being attracted to roles, attributes, behaviors, and trans individuals that follow these traits is common, but this frame work of attraction still permeates and conforms to the preconceived standards of what is masculinity/femininity and how these qualities are defined through the biases and authorship of patriarchy. See more Terminology…
These issues are even more prevalent in “movement spaces” or activist circles, where privileges should be checked and balanced. I was recently abruptly asked by a half drunken hetero sexual white male comrade when out on a sleep-in action,
“Why do you make me uncomfortable?…”
My response was,
“…I’m not the one who knows the answer to that question. So? Why do I make you feel uncomfortable?”
He brushed my response off as irrelevant and that the question had no real meaning. I just didn’t realize that the role for me and everyone around him as activists/organizers was to make him specifically feel comfortable. Because I look, act, and dress like me, and it confuses his male ego, that’s my issue? Unacceptable aaand fuck that! Sure he was tipsy, but let us get back to why questions like HIS make ME feel uncomfortable because usually in circumstances like these, where the confused and socially protected straight man is doing the inquiring and expressing his “uncomfortability” to an individual like me, it doesn’t usually end well for people who share my propensities. What a blatant disregard for my struggle and his own privileges! It is ALWAYS up to you, the individual, to ask yourself, why you’re attracted to someone and anyone. And maybe why YOU are attracted to someone who is seemingly the same “sex”, femmier or more masculine gender and not blame them for that or project your insecurities out on them. Break down why you are attracted to some physical attributes and not others because those same rules of attraction, the standards conceived in your head(mostly created by social constructs anyway), apply to every androgynous or gender non conforming or trans individual as well. Yeah, you can argue that certain genitalia are a deal breaker, but are these requisites all qualities you yourself came up with? And how much of THAT is influenced by societal pressures vs. the pleasure principle(fetishization) vs. actual experiences? Sexuality is not so easily black and white.
As a gender non conforming, graysexual, person of color, humyn meatbag, aka queer for short, I’ve found it impossible to disregard and ignore the dangers of being who I am and easy to depersonalize and remove myself from being on the defense in terms of my privileges or position in society. Prime examples, like in the last paragraph, of men not recognizing why the vast majority of cisgendered men make me feel uncomfortable is indicative of the trivialization of the threat of gender violence and harassment. I find that my insecurities reflect those who are most marginalized by escalating rape culture. For instance, while waiting at a bus stop at night or walking through the unlit streets of Los Angeles alone, I’ll admittedly make efforts to seem less “feminine” or less “desirable”. I will go as far as hiding my hair or covering the majority of my head and face with a hood, watching every single shadow, prepping for assault by holding onto a defensive tool in my bag, even going as far as changing my stride or saunter to match that of a more aggressive or confident male, because the risk of being perceived as a womyn or even feminine places my safety at risk. This femmephobia is then internalized. These are issues LGBT people & womyn will face and calculate on the day to day. This is why we talk so much about privilege and patriarchy because we do not have the privilege to safely roam our streets at any given time. It is the sickness in society that expresses that the cause of sexual assault is often the result of a person’s appearance.
In another of many instances, years ago, I was approached by a male in his car around 3am while waiting at a bus stop after work. I was knowledgeable of the fact that his car slowly passed by once before and driving past again he proceeded to ask me the standard pickup questions men cruising the streets at 3am ask,
“Uhhh… Dyou know where Blank street is?”(The actual street was straight ahead, roughly 8 blocks away, I knew this)
He then asked,
“Do you need a ride or dyou want some company?”
As I slowly gripped the defensive tool hidden in my bag, I replied with,
“No thanks, I’m saving myself for when I get raped.” (Quoting a movie where the womyn saying this proceeded to murder her potential assailants)
Shocked at my response, he sped away in what seemed to have been disappointment in my assertion. This wasn’t an appropriate response. Looking back, it was an extremely insensitive one. But in the heat it was just a reactive reflection of my darkened attempt at humoring myself in a potentially dangerous situation. Cat calling, pick up offers, and other variations of street harassment are not new to me or any other person that doesn’t outwardly portray or conform to the hetero male gendered persuasion. This man’s covert advances are reflective of some of the only ways cis hetero men will express their attraction to trans feminine people. Which doesnt help how society overly objectifies our bodies because of the public shame that may come with this attraction, enabling a need for secrecy, mistreatment, abuse, and or low key sexual transaction.
Ahh, then there’s the loneliness. It is nothing new to anyone in this struggle. As far as struggles go there is an unsung pain that resonates in those who are born to resist normalcy. There’s the chokehold on your very existence and how you are not free to be. I often feel like I’m drowning in this sewage of assumptions, ignorance, hetero- AND even homo-normativity. Even within some LGBT communities it is hard to be accepted when it is so very influenced by social stigma that the pressures to assimilate into certain less orthodox cultures are even greater. It says conform to something because even the most marginalized are guilty of shunning those not ascribing to their obscure social dogma. Are you or aren’t you? In? Or out? Boy? Or girl? Are always the questions. So to address those in struggles like mine, or who understand how difficult it is to be hated for such great traits, I assure you, you are not alone, in this. Even though he or she won’t tell you how they romantically or sexually feel for fear of being ostracized themselves, you are not alone in this. Even when every individual around you is berating you for who you are, you are not alone in this. There are those who have been and will always be in solidarity with you and will fight alongside with you as we rage against disenfranchisement and strive for our voices to be heard under such oppression.
This critical consciousness is inherent in all of us. I and many like me are the anomaly in the gender matrix that calls out social norms as constructs that can be questioned, ignored, and deleted for liberation. This has the ability to provide cognitive dissonance within those who follow and propagate patriarchy blindly. We spit in the face of indoctrination. In terms of resistance, the gender non conformists take on a role of not adhering to their provided social framework of gender as it is, and to resist being compelled by conformity as the only liberating option for all people. Will I follow the existing long lived preset roles of gender and veer away from true liberty by way of coercion conformity, falling into despair? Or will I resist? We agree on resistance because this rebellion is paramount to our very existence. You are worth it. I am worth it. Resist to exist.